Friday, June 19, 2009

Printing and Publishing Books: Counting the Costs for Colored Ink

by Yvonne Perry

My visit to Published by Westview proved to be a great learning experience. While I’m accustomed to how the publishing industry operates, I did not know much about the printers that publishers work with.

Lightning Source, Inc. (LSI) is probably the most popular printer for books. Having LSI print a book means automatic distribution through Ingram. That doesn’t mean your books will be on the shelves at your local bookstore, but it does mean that the store can order your book for a client because it will be listed in the Ingram catalog. It also means your book will be available through This is something you may or may not want. Let me explain.

During the first printing of the Sid Series, I discovered that color pages are about three times more expensive to print than black and white pages. But, I couldn’t offer a children’s picture book and not have it in color. The heavier, glossy paper I used for the cover cost extra and so did having them stapled in the center. Had I selected a non-standard size for my book, that would have cost more too. There were about eighteen to twenty pages in each book, so my first print cost me about $6 per book. I could not justify selling such a small book for more than $7, so I ended up losing money on them by the time I paid tax and shipping. I kept the stock in my office closet. Because these books were self-published, I had to manually create mailing labels and stuff envelopes whenever a customer placed an order. The books were only available on my Web site.

When I sold out of the first print run, I did not reorder because I had written another nine books for the series by then and I couldn’t afford individual printing of all twelve books. So, I offered the stories as e-books and put the project on hold until I could get all of the stories illustrated. These are still available on my Web site and I will be adding the new stories once they are illustrated.

I’ve decided to put all twelve stories into one print book and republish them. I don’t want to self-publish because I don’t want to handle printed distribution this time. I thought I would go with a publish-on-demand company so the books could be listed in Ingram’s catalog.

That’s when I started my research with Published by Westview. Mary Catherine walked me through my options. I could print with LSI for about the same price as I could print with another company. However, LSI does not offer glossy pages; the other printers do. LSI offers Ingram distribution; the other printers do not. The drawback is that my book will be listed on You may not think of that as a drawback, but if you consider that Amazon purchases your book for 55 percent off your list price (bookstores only charge 45 percent), you will make no money in the transaction. Let’s say your book retails for $15 and Amazon buys it from you for $6.75. It cost you $9 (plus tax and shipping) per book to print in paperback (hard cover would be $10 per book), so you just lost 75 cents on that paperback book sale. If you price the book at $20, you would break even on a softcover. If you go much higher on the retail price of your book, you lose your market because no one wants to pay much more than $20 for a 48-page book. I can’t keep Amazon from selling my book. They can even offer it in e-book format for their Kindle Reader. If I don’t go with LSI, I get to pack and ship my own books again. What’s an author to do?

First of all, more research is needed. Therefore, I’m going to a used and new book store to compare paper, finished size, and average price for this genre, and to see how certain bindings hold up after use. Afterward, I should have a better idea of which route to go and whether or not the market will pay enough per book to cover my expenses and perhaps allow me to make a profit. I will share with you what I learn.

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